If I have understood correctly, the English word "terror" roughly means various activities invoking fear, such as attacks on civilians, and "terrorism" is the use of terror for political purposes. The word "terror" has other meanings as well, but I am only interested in it here as the almost synonym of "terrorism". What would be a good Latin word for this?

The obvious first thought is of course terror, but it seems to mean something else if I read my dictionaries correctly. It means fear or an entity to be feared, not an activity causing fear. One option is to use this old word in an extended sense, but I was hoping there to be something more accurate. I'm looking for a word for modern use, and even coining new words is fine as long as the kind of derivation is attested.

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    The English meaning of "terror" has been devalued over time, at least until its recent association with terrorism. Originally "terrible" denoted "something that induces a state of terror" - which is not what phrases like "a terrible piece of homework" or even "a terrible car crash" imply in modern English.
    – alephzero
    Oct 21, 2018 at 21:06

2 Answers 2


FWIW, the Lexicon Recentis Latinitatis lists terrorist as tromocrates, -ae (a Greek term!). I think this makes it safe enough to think there is no Classical term for that specific meaning.

In the other hand, it seems (sorry, the link to the actual source is broken) that Nuntii Latini has referred to terrorists as territores, and the use of the following has been at least suggested (in 2004 and 2005) in the related Colloquia Latina:

  • Terrorism: terrorismus, -i, tromocratia, -ae
  • Terrorist: terrorista, -ae, territor, -ris, besides the already mentioned tromocrates. Apparently, Jupiter was once called Iupiter Territor

I didn't take the time to actually read and make full sense of the Colloquia Latina discussion, so maybe I'm missing something important.

I'm aware that you asked for terror in the terrorism sense, but this is the closest I have found yet.

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    I quite like terrorismus and territor !
    – Tom Cotton
    Oct 23, 2018 at 12:26

The objective product of terrorism in Latin is expressed by several words — pavor, formido, metus, timor — of which formido is possibly the strongest.

I think the problem is that we use 'terrorise', etc,. for instilling terror into people or, indeed, whole populations. As far as I know, there is no exact Latin equivalent which expresses this, and it is necessary to use a formation such as alicui formidinem inferre. As an example of the 'activity causing fear' which you mention, Cicero (Quint. 14,47) has the splendid minas iactare, pericula intendere, formidines opponere.

In order to coin a new noun, I should think it must end in -tor or -arius, perhaps minator (an attested word meaning 'cattle drover who uses threats') terrifactor, or formidinarius. As for verbs, terrificare or formidinare ought to be readily understood.

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    My Latin is rusty and was weak to begin with: what is Cicero saying there? To throw threats, to intend danger, to oppose fear seems like a strange reversal in the last section?
    – KRyan
    Oct 21, 2018 at 18:24
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    @KRyan You could translate it as "oppose with fear" or something similar. Opponere aliquid alicui means "to put something (acc.) in someone's (dat.) way". Forminidines is accusative, not dative. This kind of behavior is typical for Latin threats. That would make a nice question for the site, actually!
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Oct 21, 2018 at 18:28
  • Can one even really have terrorism without a mass media? Oct 21, 2018 at 21:55
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    @David Richerby Why ever not? May not a gang strike terror into people with neither aid nor publicity from the media, for instance?
    – Tom Cotton
    Oct 21, 2018 at 22:24
  • @TomCotton That’s not terrorism in the sense the word is understood today. It’s hard to strike enough fear into a population to achieve political goals if people in the next town don’t know what’s going on, unless your goals are also very local. Oct 22, 2018 at 9:00

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